What’s The Furthest Place From Here (WTFPFH) (from writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss) is an excellent, stylish, detailed, very satisfying (oversized) debut issue. It does absolutely what I want from an issue #1, which is getting me really intrigued about the world and wanting to read more. But it does more than that. Issue #1 tells a satisfying story in its own right, in addition to building out the weird, post-apocalyptic world and making me care about the characters. It's Stand By Me meets The Warriors meets Empire Records, and it's an absolute must-read.
In the world of WTFPFH, it appears that society has collapsed. All of
the adults have disappeared and all that is left is different groups of
kids trying to survive. WTFPFH is focused on a group of kids that
have taken refuge in and a building containing a record store. This
record store is their home, and the fellow inhabitants are the closest
and only thing they have as far as family is concerned. Their world is
not one that exists without danger, as there is sometimes violence
between different groups of kids. Different groups of kids seem to
have taken on different thematic identities. There are kids in pig masks and business suits and other themed gangs.
By the end of the first issue, the kids have gone out searching for one of their number who is missing (or has been taken). In that way, it’s kind of a nice nod to the 1970s movie The Warriors (where a gang of teens has to
make their way across New York City from one side to another confronted
by one ridiculous gang or another with adults and law-enforcement and authority
pretty much absent, as they try to make their way home to safety).
Rosenberg and Boss are a fantastic creative team and I was very much in the tank for them before I even read WTFPFH. They wrote the spectacular 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank (4 Kids), which in case you haven’t read it, you should really go read it right now (my review of issue #1 here). That is a story about, you guessed it, four kids that decide to rob a bank. And it is about that, but it’s really about so much more than that. What 4 Kids did so successfully was something that most comics have a hard time doing which is just created a great group of characters with whom I just want to spend time, just hanging out with them and following them around, regardless of what they're up to.
A lot of that comes from the amazing work that Boss did in that comic. He is a fantastic artist, but saying that doesn’t even really do his work justice. He is an illustrator, but more than that, he brings an amazing sense of design and structure to any comic that he's drawing. Boss has a distinctive style that has already made him one of my favorite artistic voices in comics in just a relatively short amount of time. He absolutely has distinctive line work, but the work of David Aja and Chris Ware also comes to mind in thinking about Boss' work. Aja and Ware are exceptional, game-changing storytellers that do an incredible job in bringing the formal structure of comics into the story itself, and just generally playing a lot with the way that the story itself and other information are laid out within the comic. I'm not saying that Boss is a master of the entire medium just yet, but I think his work is in the same general category, and he is on his way to being that level of visual storyteller.
Boss has been showing his range this year, as he released a miniseries called Dead Dog's Bite in which he was writer and artist. That was an excellent story as well, with humor, heart, poignancy, and a ton of visual flair and rich detail. And all of these trends continue in the first issue of WTFPFH. I feel like Boss' skills as an action storyteller have only continued to improve, and that's on display in this first issue. There's genuine tension from panel to panel, even in panels where Boss changes only one small detail from one panel to the next. And throughout the story, Boss brings moments of big action and tension to life, whether it's the record store being under siege, or the kids venturing out side of the record store into the dangerous remains of the city.
Boss is also an exceptional colorist and
that continues in this book. Boss uses a somewhat muted color scheme and goes for flat coloring which immediately gives the book a classic, timeless feel, and prevents it from looking dated (credit also to Claire DeZutti for color assist). The color choices inside the record store feel a little more atmospheric (and less strictly realist). I think that gives the inside of the record store a sense of warmth, as in an uncaring world, this place is the little oasis of warmth that these kids call home. However, those big, bright colors show up later when our group tangles with another group of teens who all weird pig-faced masks. There, the page is saturated with reds that convey the action and intensity of the scene. There's also some gorgeous, distinctive color work later in in the issue when we see a few characters up on the roof. The sky has a weird, foggy, almost pixelated kind of look to it. It's great, interesting work throughout. The skill and attention to detail extends to the lettering from Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, who provides consistently strong lettering which works well in the action and emotion of a particular scene.
Comics writer and podcaster David Harper refers to the aesthetic of a certain kind of comic that I love as a "hangout comic", and that perfectly describes certain beloved comics to me. It's a comic where the story is cool and the art is great, but I'm really just there to hang out with these fun characters because I enjoy spending time with them. 4 Kids (which was one of my favorite comics of the past decade) fits this bill. As do 2 other comic series that were among my favorites of the past decade, Paper Girls and Giant Days (which also happen to be stories about young people). Despite the disparate stories, what (in part) makes these comics so great, and what they have in common, is how much I enjoy spending time with these characters. I'd be perfectly happy reading a comic that follows the characters around for a day where nothing of significance happens.
WTFPFH is definitely an action-oriented comic (as is Paper Girls), but I really appreciate that Rosenberg and Boss take their time telling the story in this first issue and really letting the story breathe. We get action, but by the time we get there we have already gotten a chance to know the characters somewhat and to get a sense of their personalities. I can't say that WTFPFH will be a "hangout comic" in the same way that the other comics are, but I appreciate the ways in which Boss and Rosenberg are building out the characters and their world such that even in quieter moments, these are characters I'll really care about, and want to know hat they're thinking and how they're feeling.
One of the big ways that Rosenberg and Boss do this is with the focus on music in the story. Music and movies and popular culture are clearly very important to Boss and Rosenberg; they were in 4 Kids and they are here as well. The kids take very seriously the fact that they live in a record store, and make music a big component of their personality and identity. At a certain age, each kid needs to choose an album that best exemplifies them or with which they most identify. This is a serious choice, not to be taken lightly. That love of music really comes across on the story, as the characters get into pretty detailed discussion of different bands and albums.
In a world where the presumably very digital society is gone, it's probably really nice and important for these kids to have a physical, tactile object with which to identify (as I'm assuming that Spotify is no longer up and running in this story). I feel like if you asked Boss
and Rosenberg, I bet they both have pretty strong ideas about what
albums they would used identify with. I’ll definitely have to consider
that question for myself. But what the music does for the story is two-fold: (1) it gives this world some level of grounding and detail and a feeling of being lived-in, and (2) relatedly, it gives you the sense that these characters are real people with real interior lives. And these are the sorts of details that are both non-essential and entirely essential. It's also very cool that Boss and Rosenberg are bringing in musicians to record a song to go with each issue, and releasing those as vinyl records.
The theme of worlds (or stories) without adults (whether literally or figuratively, from The Lord of the Flies to Stand By Me) is a fertile one for exploration of ideas about growing up, figuring out the world, and managing difficult transitions. Peanuts is actually very much an exploration of those ideas; adults are basically a non-factor such that you can't even hear what they're saying in the cartoons. The theme of absent adults (and particularly, parents)is being explored in WTFPFH, and in that way it feels like a continuation of the exploration of those ideas in 4 Kids. In 4 Kids, the kids decide that they need to rob a bank to prevent their leader's dad from robbing the same bank and going back to jail. It’s a story about kids not trusting or believing in adults, because those adults have shown them that the adults don’t deserve their trust or faith. And kids having to take their lives, and their futures, into their own hands. It seems like WTFPFH is taking that idea and extending it and making it not just figurative, but literal.
WTFPFH is fun and stylish and moving and a fantastic book to look at. All of that is thanks to the incredibly holistic creative partnership between Rosenberg
and Boss. They both have such great voices,
whether to plot or art or dialogue, but it all comes across on the page
in a unified whole. WTFPFH is a special book, and I think you'll love it.